Maria C. R. Harrington Ph.D. is an American information scientist and artist. Research focus is on aesthetics in the perceptual ambient array and information science theory as it relates to reality and beauty found in natural environments using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), GIS simulations, and new media art to explore the phenomena of human reactions. Such tools are used to investigate human interaction of real-virtual environments and impacts on perception, learning, health, and creativity. Such systems influence scientific, human, social, and cultural transformations. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida, director of The Harrington Lab, and has consulted on projects using AR and VR with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The Harrington Lab at UCF investigates virtual nature, using AR and VR as a technical artifact, to better understand perceptual phenomenon as it relates to human-computing-environment interactions that cause emotional, learning, and aesthetic outcomes. The lab is highly collaborative with several active multidisciplinary partnerships. Efforts focus on extending prior work in the development of Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE) used for research and art. The lab is under the direction of Dr. Harrington at the University of Central Florida.

Find her publications on Google Scholar and ResearchGate.

Her professional experience spans over 20 years in human factors engineering, human-computer interaction, user-centered design, product strategy and software product management, as well as in academic research and teaching. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1988 with degrees in Economics and Art, and from the University of Pittsburgh with a Ph.D. in Information Science in 2008. Her dissertation was on virtual reality, simulations, and human-computer interaction for learning and creating.

This combination of experiences provides a unique interdisciplinary background, ideal for augmented and virtual environments, immersive new media art, and human-computer-environment interaction research and teaching.

Her dissertation, “Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE): A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments,” investigated the empirical inter-relationships between humans, computers, and the environment. My dissertation advisor was Dr. Peter Brusilovsky, eminent scholar in hyper-media, adaptive E-learning, and intelligent tutoring systems.

Discovered: 1) Real Environments show more learning than Virtual, there is transfer from the Virtual to the Real, and Real to the Virtual, thus indicating that the best educational practice is to use the two environments together. 2) That when the content in the Virtual matches the Real, the learning outcomes are the same. 3) There is significant interaction between Visual Fidelity, as a design factor, and Navigational Freedom, as a design factor, and the combined condition of both High Visual Fidelity and High Navigational Freedom results in far superior Knowledge Gained on tests, thus proving that both of these factors must be present to have the greatest impact on learning.  4) There is no interaction of the two factors for Salient Events, or changes in student behavior from exploration to deep inquiry, and the main effect of Visual Fidelity is a critical software user interface design factor for increased learning activity in Virtual Reality educational simulations.  It alone, is responsible for significantly increasing learning activity. Navigational Freedom, as a factor, shows a strong trend.

biophotoFigure 1. Image from The Virtual Trillium Trail project.

Environmental factors cause learning and creativity to occur, specifically the freedom and fidelity of the environment with respect to computer systems and simulations. The tool impacts what we see, feel, learn, and do.

The Virtual Trillium Trail software is offered to teachers and public schools for free.




Artwork based on the visualizations has been professionally displayed, shown, and sold to private collectors. Such immersive artistic experiences offer new forms of art in culture, and new perspectives of reality to the viewer. Art, especially as an expression of a society’s culture of that time, technology, and economy, is a total accumulation of knowledge, values, and beliefs of that society, and is partially expressed today in our computer digital media artifacts, such as film and games. My work hints at a powerful connection between art and creativity and knowledge seeking behavior in our society.

United States Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/816,357 “Simulated Ecological Environments for Education and Methods of Creating and Implementing Same” Filed on June 23, 2006 No. 60/816,357

Current scholarly interests are in models of complexity, simulation, imagination and art, virtual and real spaces of nature, especially as sources for educational applications. My research agenda is a complex, multi-dimensional investigation of game technology as an aesthetic medium and as a scientific tool used to model the human-computer environment interaction relationships between environmental signals, emotional reactions, and learning.  Research focus is on knowledge acquisition and creativity mediated and supported actions with high fidelity information systems, educational simulations, virtual environments, virtual/augmented reality, immersive learning simulations, and serious games, as they are used for informal learning, formal education, knowledge stores, collaboration, decision support, and creativity. Quantitative and causal models are used to explain the role of context in human perception, signal processing, memory, decision process, and action in the real world. Applications of this research are relevant to the fields of  simulation, educational technology, creativity, and robotics. Many of my grant applications have resulted in funding, and my publications and presentations include peer-reviewed journals and conferences. I plan to write and publish books, file for IP patents, and release commercial software with impact.

Professional experience includes project/product management, risk management, real time financial decision support systems, strategic information systems, C3I system design, economic and marketing forecasting, real time visualization systems, human-computer interaction, and human factors analysis and design activities for global corporations and institutions such as: PNC Financial Services Group, The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Fidelity Investments, University of Toronto, Alias/Wavefront-Autodesk, DataViews–GE Fanuc,  and Federated Investors.  I continue to be interested in advanced graphical user interfaces. 

I welcome inquiries. Please feel free to email me directly:

A video of The Virtual Trillium Trail